The wines of Jerez, a region in Andalusia, Spain, are a delightful blend of unique climate and soil conditions, coupled with the expertise of the local winemakers. The region's climate plays a crucial role in the wine's processing, leading to the formation of a layer of "flor" or yeast on top of the wine in the cask. This results in the most significant group of sherry from Jerez, known as "fino". A variant of this, produced in the Sanlúcar de Barrameda area near the sea, is called "manzanilla", which has a distinct personality.
All grape juice from this region has the potential to become "fino", although not all possess the required quality. The winemakers play a pivotal role in this selection process, directing a must that is not suitable away from the "flor" producing bacteria. During the processing with the "flor" method, some wines unexpectedly turn a deeper color, becoming unfit for maturing into "finos". However, these are preserved for the production of another group of wines with great character and quality - the "amontillados".
The "finos", "manzanillas", "olorosos", along with "palo cortado" and the sweet Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel wines, constitute the rich variety of wines from the area around Jerez de la Frontera. The traveler has two options at this point: visit the towns that produce wine under the Designation of Origin Jerez, or explore the magical triangle where these wines are produced. The former includes Chiclana, Chipiona, Puerto Real, Rota, and Trebujena, all in the province of Cadiz. Authentic sherry can only be produced in the "bodegas" within a sun-bathed triangle encompassing Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
The production of Jerez wines involves a meticulous process that begins with the careful selection of grapes. The defining characteristic of these wines is the unique method of drying the grapes in the sun, which gives them their distinctive flavor. This process, known as "pasificación", allows the grapes to dehydrate naturally, resulting in a concentrated must with very little water and an extraordinary concentration of sugars.
The wines are then fortified with wine alcohol, and stored in American oak casks for aging. This traditional method, known as the "criaderas y solera" system, allows the wine to age while being exposed to oxygen at all times. The slow loss of water through the wooden cask walls leads to a continuous process of concentration, enhancing the wine's structure, smoothness, and complexity.
The wines of Jerez are best enjoyed slightly chilled, and can be served either as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to a variety of dishes. "Finos" and "manzanillas" are typically served with tapas, especially olives, nuts, and Iberian cured ham. "Olorosos" pair well with red meats and game, while the sweet Pedro Ximénez is an excellent choice for desserts.